Using The CAR Framework In Competency Interviews

Interviews for legal positions will typically include some form of competency element. It’s critical to your success that you know how to prepare for, and answer, competency questions.

A competency question is commonly known as a question which asks for an example of when you utilised a specific competency. They usually start with something like:

Tell me about a time when…”

OR

Describe a situation where…”

Other competency questions are less specific and leave you more choice over which competencies to evidence. Common questions are:

What has been your biggest challenge to date…”

OR

What has been your greatest work achievement…”

In this article, I will explain what the CAR Framework is, why it’s is an effective framework to use when answering competency questions, and how to use it.

What the CAR Framework Is

The CAR Framework stands for Context, Action, Result.

You may recognise it as similar to the STAR Model, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.

I prefer the CAR Framework as it’s simpler. I like simple things!

Context

This is where you give factual details to provide background to the scenario you intend to describe in your answer. For example, you will give details about the time duration, clients, colleagues, value of transactions, etc.

It’s the equivalent of the Situation and Task in the STAR Model.

By specifying facts and figures you add contextual weight to the actions you describe in the rest of your answer.

For example, “Drafted a broadcast rights agreement valued at £1 million” has more impact than “Drafted a broadcast rights agreement”.

Perhaps surprisingly, I hear the latter more than the former in the practice interviews I conduct.

Action

This is the most important part. It forms the meat in the sandwich of Context and Results.

This is where the evidence of the competencies the recruiter is looking for lives. Yet, many candidates focus more on the contextual details than describing what they actually did in that context.

The key to this is in the self-analysis stage of your preparation. Focus in on what you actually did to achieve what you did.

  • How did you do it?
  • What action(s) did you take?

A “We” Warning

If you are describing a scenario where you were working as part of a team be careful. You must focus on your personal actions and contributions and not merely give an account of the team efforts. It’s very easy to do the latter when explaining one of your proudest achievements.

My best piece of advice here is this:

Don’t “we” all over your interview answers!”

Whenever you talk about “we” (or “us” or “our, etc) it can only ever be contextual. However, the recruiter is looking for evidence of your competencies. You provide that by describing what YOU specifically did, what YOUR specific contribution was to the team effort and the results flowing from that.

Result

You should always seek to conclude your answers with the positive result flowing from your actions:

  • What did you achieve?
  • What was the positive outcome of your efforts?
  • What did you learn from the experience?

Try your hardest to quantify your results. This can be hard for lawyers as much of the work lacks tangible results. But you must try. Get creative.

Examples of things you could include are:

Increased the numbers of people attending the business development event by 20%”

Or

…saved the firm £200,000 over the course of the financial year”

Why the CAR Framework is an Effective Framework

Utilising the CAR Framework will help you plan and structure your answers to competency questions.

Specifically, it gets you to think about the different components of your answer and helps you organise it with a clear beginning, middle and end.

This will result in your answers having greater clarity and impact.

Using the CAR Framework as a Guide

The CAR Framework should be used to guide your preparation as much as anything. Be careful not to get too tied up with the framework in the actual interview itself. Some candidates have found it negatively affected their performance because it was another thing to think about in the interview.

The key is to use it to help you prepare in the right way and to create outlines for your examples and answers. When you get into the interview itself you don’t need to worry about applying the CAR Framework perfectly. It’s then more about describing your achievements in the way you have outlined in your prep.

When you prepare, focus your answers in a way that breaks each of the three parts of the CAR Framework down into roughly the following percentages:

As you can see, the most important thing is to focus the majority of your answer around your Action(s). This is where you describe what you did and your behaviours, which is where the evidence of your competencies and attributes lives. This is what the interviewer is looking for.

Whilst Context is important, be careful not to give too much background detail – it’s easy to do this but it will score you few points.

You also need to summarise the Result as concisely and specifically as you can.

Make a Greater Impact on the Interviewer

Utilise the Car Framework well and you will come across as an action-oriented person who achieves results when you put your mind to it.

It will also give the interviewer lots of compelling evidence of the competencies and attributes they are looking for.

This makes it much easier for them to progress you through to the next stage of the recruitment process or to make you that job offer!

About Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a commercial lawyer. Since then, Matt has over 10 years experience as a qualified career consultant and executive coach. His passion is supporting lawyers with their career development and career changes. He does this through his writing and his one to one coaching. Find out more about Matt and get in touch with him here >>>